Mistake

Example: that time I punched
Michael in the stomach
as we stood in the line
for the drinking fountain.
My second grade teacher,
Mrs. Brockhart, said I shouldn’t
have done that, and perhaps
I would not make that mistake
again if I lost my recess privilege.
I wanted to assure her that
it was no mistake, but she
assured me it was. After all,
I had no reason to be upset,
even though he had pulled the hair
of the girl in front of me,
and then turned to call
me a fat retard. A retard.

Inevitably, it happens.  Not planned,
Not timed, no forewarning.
Much like the time
I left the cover on the old
woman’s stovetop–
warped the steel
and felt like a heel. After all,
electric stoves with covers
were new to me, and I was too
embarrassed to ask–often the cause
of some mistakes. Like, the time
I told everyone they would
get paid the daily rate–
because everyone worked
on the same thing
on the same day
only to be told
some people were worth
less–boy was that a shock.

They do not happen daily, but
usually when I am in a hurry,
like when I hit the tree as I
backed out of an unfamiliar,
mountain driveway. That mistake
precipitated a lie, which often
is the case when mistakes
are made. Oh, and the time
I told a student he was special,
which ricocheted into weird,
never-put-myself-in-that-position
again moments. There was also
the time I turned down
the job at a high tech firm.
That little doozy cost me plenty
when their stock went public.
Plenty.

And then there’s this, a poem
which reminds me of my past
mistakes and doubles down on
the beat-yourself-up-once-more,
crawl that confession back
off the page, or just-forgive-yourself,
will ya? moments. For these,
I will have a hard time
hiding, ignoring, denying,
or simply accepting that
mistakes make life thick
with feelings. That socking it
to a second grader isn’t the
end of the world, but better
helped me define myself.
That fender-benders can lead
to new cars sooner than planned,
that encouraging special students
is okay even if they don’t get it,
that turning down a job
for the right reasons can lead
to a different kind of wealth,

That learning I liked poetry
while reading during recess,
and then writing a poem
fifty years later,
can dull the sting.


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One thought on “Mistake

  1. Molly May 17, 2020 / 3:13 pm

    This is one of my favorites to date! Love this poem. Love this message!!

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